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Can a Child Decide to Live With the Noncustodial Parent?

Child custody disputes and court cases can be fraught with emotions. When one parent is granted physical custody by the court, or via an agreement, children sometimes express their desire to live with their other parent. Despite the obvious emotional challenge to the current custodial parent, there are a few potential legal obstacles that must be overcome.

Depending on several factors, and your state’s laws, a child’s opinion may or may not matter when it comes to where they want to live. Typically, in addition to the noncustodial parent’s willingness to take on physical custody, the age and maturity level of a child will be taken into consideration.

Apart from these initial considerations, a court will base the decision on what is in the best interest of the child. However, if there is no child custody agreement, nor child custody court order, depending on your state laws, so long as the parents are in agreement, a child can live with whichever parent they choose without the court’s interference.

A Child’s Wishes

Although children may be able to clearly state their desire to live with the noncustodial parent, courts generally will give this little weight unless the child appears to be mature enough to make the decision. In some states, all custody determinations require a court to conduct a best interests analysis. As such, a child’s desire may not convince the court that a change in custody will serve the child’s best interests. Courts frequently must be attuned to a teen that is just trying to live with the more lenient, “cool” parent.

One issue courts are frequently tasked with identifying, particularly when younger children express a desire to live with the noncustodial parent, is custodial interference. Unfortunately, it is not too uncommon for a noncustodial parent to attempt to convince their child during visitation that the child should say they want to live with them.

While there may be a tiny ethical grey area here, if a noncustodial parent provides any sort of incentive, it will likely run afoul of the laws that protect against custodial interference.

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